Black Mirror Season Four: From Worst to Best

by thethreepennyguignol

Well, a new season of Black Mirror out, and a new excuse for us to spend the next two weeks shooting fearful glances at our phones and wondering if they somehow contain the lost souls of that weird hamster you owned as a child. I just finished up the season, and I have some heavy opinions, and I’ll bet you do to (so share them with me in the comments below). Spoilers ahoy!

6. Arkangel

Look, I wanted to like this one, I really did – Jodie Foster, Queen of my Heart, directed it, after all. But Arkangel is pretty well agreed-upon as the worst episode of this season of Black Mirror; a clunky, inelegant redo of the first season’s The Entire History of You, strong performances Rosemarie DeWitt and Brenna Harding couldn’t make the punch of this story feel like anything other than finger-wagging moralizing. Where Black Mirror before has leaned into ambiguity and discomforting questions about the morality and decency of the things we use technology for, Arkangel is without a doubt the weakest episode of season four.

5. Crocodile

Apart from featuring a great performance from Andrew Gower (one of my Secret Favourite actors) and a solid, nervy turn from Andrea Riseborough, Crocodile was just…fuck, well, a whole lot of nothing. Which doesn’t render it bad, necessarily – the beautiful direction and handsome location shots rendered it at least visually distinct from the rest of the season as a whole. But the twist in the tale was a dodgy one and left the story as a whole feeling less like a bleakly comic take on the trouble with technology and more like a half-arsed Tales of the Unexpected.

4. Hang the DJ

I just don’t get the hype around this episode. It’s not terrible, per say, but it just sticks in my craw in this saccharine way that does little to endear it to me. As is the theme with this review so far, great performances (especially from the criminally underrated Joe Cole) elevate what’s otherwise a story that feels both too big and too small for what it’s trying to achieve. I love it when genre stuff delves into the world of romance (romance is my job, after all), but Hang the DJ didn’t feel totally committed to it’s sci-fi trappings or it’s romantic ones. The natural comparison with earlier seasons for Hang the DJ is obviously last season’s standout San Junipero, and I’m not saying that the gay stuff made it better, but it did. So there. And you’re homophobic if you disagree.

3. Black Museum

Now, I see why this episode isn’t getting a lot of love, because it does feel like a haphazard gumming together of a collection of unrelated ideas, but I happen to like the ideas in question so Black Museum just sneaks under the radar for me. It’s by far the bleakest and most disturbing outing of the season (also, random aside: for people who deal with self-harm stuff like I do, I found it an episode that seriously triggered some of the capital-U Urges, so approach with caution) but I enjoyed it’s nastiness. Yes, it was disjointed, but the stories just came together strongly enough to let this one land for me.

2. Metalhead

Metalhead is a blaring, blazingly exciting survival horror starring Maxine Peake, and that alone is almost enough to make it my favourite of the season. Lean, tight, and thrilling, it’s got the feel of a heart-pumping action thriller, drawing on the themes of technology to provide a backdrop for a taut, tense tale that unfolds over the season’s shortest running time. Peake dazzles, as ever, and some awesome direction draws some heart-crunchingly haunting moments from the simple but striking premise. Apparently I alliterate a lot when I’m excited about something.

  1. USS Callister

Yep, that’s right: Black Mirror season four peaked in it’s first episode for me, and what an episode. Featuring a clutch of stunning performances (Jimmi Simpson steals the show, but Jesse Plemons, Michaela Cole and Cristin Milioti make a good case too) and a fabulously high-concept idea that teases out to it’s chilling denouement in a way that just works for me. The production design is impeccable, the character work convincing, and the ending satisfying without being pandering, and USS Callister manages to sneak in a few moments of genuine pathos to boot.

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